Where are they now? With Mikah Carlos, ILA Cohort 1

Kristen Talbert

Indigenous Leadership Academy Program Manager

The American Indian Policy Institute’s Indigenous Leadership Academy (ILA) is currently running its second cohort! Sign up here to follow along and receive ILA updates.

I wanted to do a “where are they now?” series from the first ILA cohort for a while now. The first cohort was a learning curve for me and the cohort came with so many wonderful ideas and insights. I really enjoyed getting to know them and I wanted the rest of the world to know them too. 

Our first guest in this series is Mikah Carlos. She is a breath of fresh air and every time she speaks, a joke spills out. She is truly one of the funniest people I’ve ever met and she has a heart for her people. So much so, that she is currently running for Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community District 1 council member. She was a guest panelist for the incoming ILA cohort and they, too, got to see just how much Mikah shines. I’ve added her bio and some questions and answers that I asked her about how ILA impacted her life and what it’s like running for Tribal Council. 

Mikah Carlos is from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community in Arizona. She is Onk Akimel O’Odham, Tohono O’Odham and Piipaash. She graduated from Arizona State University, with a Bachelor of Science in American Indian Studies and a minor in Psychology. She is currently serving as a member of the Center for Native American Youth- Youth Advisory Board and as a board member for the National Indian Child Welfare Association. In both positions, she has the opportunity to advocate on behalf of Native American youth across the country in areas such as mental health resources, language revitalization, and cultural preservation. Currently, Mikah is employed by her community and serving youth and their families.

As part of ILA, participants are asked to create a project that helps the community. What was your project idea and how did the tools from ILA help you grow that idea?

Through my work, I have the opportunity to work with a multidisciplinary team with the goal of preventing opioid overdoses in the Community. Since 2019, our team has been using harm reduction education as one of our main practices for preventing accidental overdose. We were planning on holding a Community symposium to provide resources and education about the efforts the Community was taking to address overdoses as well as substance use throughout the Community. I chose to bring this work into my ILA project experience.  ILA gives the resources and feedback from the beginning to the implementation of the project. I especially appreciated the opportunities ILA  provided to discuss our projects with other members of the cohort to get feedback on our projects. That feedback allowed me to expand on what I thought was possible for our event. I was able to bring that feedback to our team to improve the quality of our event, which our team successfully held for the Community. 

What was your most surprising takeaway from the cohort?

I knew going into ILA that I was really excited to meet the other participants and learn about the work they are doing, but I didn’t realize how impactful the networking would truly be. It’s rare that you have the opportunity to discuss and brainstorm with so many others who are experts in their fields. ILA allows us to have the opportunity to reach out to others and get valuable feedback on not only our projects for ILA, but also for the work we are doing in our communities. 

I was reluctant to dive into the LinkedIn platform but it has allowed me to stay in contact with other members of the first cohort and even for the group I was in, we maintain a group chat there to discuss ongoing projects and they get updates about other opportunities we are pursuing and it's a very encouraging environment. 

How has ILA impacted your life since completing the Academy?

One of the topics introduced to us in the first cohort was leadership types. This gave us an opportunity to find out what kind of leaders we are, for me I found it really beneficial to see exactly where I can improve as a leader. I’ve taken that knowledge forward and I continue to try to implement it in the work I am doing. The areas in which it was identified as not being the strongest helped me grow. I asked people from my life who I thought had strong leadership skills in those areas to mentor me. Not only is it helping me to grow, but I think some of them really appreciated being acknowledged for their leadership. 

At what point did you decide that you were ready to make a run for Tribal Council? 

I have been preparing to eventually run for council since I joined the SRPMIC youth council, Young River Peoples Council when I was 18. One of the goals of the youth council is to prepare youth to one day run for a seat on council and I took that to heart. I dove into learning about the by-laws, constitution, and policies for the community. Youth council also provided opportunities to go to NCAI conferences, where I was able to shadow our council members while they advocated for the tribe and I knew that it was something I wanted to do also. 

I always thought I would run for a seat as soon as I was eligible, but then I started working for the community and working with our youth. I was content putting council off for a few years (or even decades), because I really enjoy the work I’m doing and I know how important it is to our Community. Additionally,  I told myself I wouldn’t really consider running unless I was asked to. When I was asked to consider running for a council seat earlier this year, I had to really reflect and evaluate where I could have the most positive impact for my community and I knew it would be in council. That is why I made the decision to run for a seat on the tribal council. 

 What is your platform as a potential leader for SRPMIC and why is that important to you?

In any leadership position, it's important to keep your values and your reason “why” at the center of everything you do. For myself, I value our culture and language, building a community of wellness and planning for future generations. My “why” is the people, everything I do is to make positive changes for my community. As for the potential leadership position for the Community, I strongly believe that we as a community can not move forward and make great strides if we have community members that are still struggling. I think we have to address the urgent needs of the community before we can start moving forward together. Change is possible, but it has to be done in a realistic and sustainable way that helps the people now and takes into account the needs of those coming next. 

The election for the SRPMIC Tribal Council is set for September 6, 2022. Personally, and on behalf of the staff here at the American Indian Policy Institute, I would like to extend a big thank you to Mikah and we wish her the very best of luck in her pursuit of a seat.